Movie review: X-Men: Apocalypse
Director Bryan Singer brings the comic book franchise to the brink as he sends us back to the 1980s, when the powerful mutants were forced to pick sides
Starring: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Running time: 2hrs 24 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
By Katherine Monk
Oh. How they like to tease us with the promise of closure with titles that contain words like Apocalypse, but we know better. Profitable franchises like X-Men don’t ever end, they just get cheaper casts and go straight to home video.
But that’s in a future not yet past, because this X-Men iteration is definitely a present.
A meaty slab of superhero cinema sandwiched by A-listers on either side of the camera, X-Men: Apocalypse satisfies a hunger for drama as well as the built-in expectations that come with every comic-based franchise.
It’s a balancing act director Bryan Singer has perfected after spending half his career developing the dynamics between a rag-tag group of crime-fighting mutants. He cares about these characters, but in this latest instalment in their continuing saga, you can feel Singer’s fingers loosen as he releases the franchise to a different generation.
For those who’ve been keeping track, X-Men has been travelling back and forth in time over its six instalments. First, we were introduced to Professor X and Magneto as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen — all grown-up, and sworn enemies.
Professor X wanted to help young mutants control their gifts and channel them for the greater good. Magneto wanted to make humankind pay for its sins by destroying stuff. It was easy: Good vs. Evil. But Singer gave it all dramatic depth by giving his characters a back story: Magneto was a concentration camp survivor and Professor X used to be his best friend.
Suddenly, this wasn’t just a two-dimensional page-turner but a superhero take on Shakespearean theme with a modern, nihilist twist where the heroes have free will, and must navigate their own sense of morality.
We already know how the story ends: Singer served it all up in his films set in the present day, after the mutants had already chosen sides.
X-Men: Apocalypse gives us more insight into how they made their big moral decisions as we travel back in time to the 1980s, when Patrick Stewart was James McAvoy and Ian McKellen was Michael Fassbender.
Watching these two young versions of Professor X and Magneto is always a value-added experience because they aren’t just playing the characters, they are referencing their older selves. And really, half the pleasure of watching McAvoy’s performance is seeing him absorb Patrick Stewart’s body language, and in this outing, lose all his hair.
Yup. Apocalypse is where the past and the future meet as the mutants are forced to pick sides.
Kicking off with the spectacular resurrection of an Egyptian deity, we meet Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the original mutant with a thirst for power.
After casting his Technicolor gaze over humankind in the era of Ronald Reagan, Apocalypse thinks Homo Sapiens is an evolutionary write-off. He wants to start from scratch, which means destroying the world we know and replacing it with something better — a world populated by mutant worshippers.
The only thing standing in his way is the X-Men, lead by Professor X and his band of well-intentioned genetic anomalies, including Raven/ Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Magneto (Fassbender).
At this moment in time, everyone is still on the professor’s side, but Apocalypse has a talent for turning mutants to the dark side, and that’s where this movie finds its dramatic backbone.
Even though the movie is top-heavy as a result of all the set pieces, action spectacles, character arcs and back story infill, it still functions as a film unto itself because Singer never loses sight of the emotional stakes.
In the end, the whole X-Men franchise has been about love — the love Magneto had for his family, the love Professor X had for Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), and the brotherly love between Charles (McAvoy) and Erik (Fassbender).
Apocalypse challenges the love concept with the promise of power and control, and for the mutants struggling to contain and understand their own gifts, the idea of personal empowerment is hugely seductive. Moreover, it fits the emotional profile of the youthful characters, searching for their true identity, overwhelmed by hormones and a desire to belong.
Singer has always been able to nail the emotional milestones better than his comic-book peers, and he seems to be having a good time calling the shots on this Montreal-shot blockbuster, which means the movie doesn’t labour over the convoluted plot.
Singer lets the actors’ faces tell the story, which is far more entertaining than forcing us to listen to long swaths of dialogue explaining doomsday physics.
To be honest, there are many parts of this story that are not immediately clear, but if it means I get to watch Jennifer Lawrence play a mutant in blue body paint, or Game of Thrones’s Sophie Turner take on the role of the self-loathing Jean Grey — articulating all the insecurity and body consciousness of a pubescent — I’m all in.
X-Men: Apocalypse probably means the end of the line for most of the A-listers, given the contracts for McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence expire with this outing, but being the benevolent patriarch, Singer leaves a legacy of good will as he sets up the next 20 years of plot with another ace cast lead by next-gen stars such as Turner and Sheridan.
So don’t be sad. X-Men: Apocalypse may kiss some old faces goodbye, but it may mark the beginning of a whole new friendship.
THE EX-PRESS, May 27, 2016